Uefa has ordered Bulgaria to play two matches behind closed doors as punishment for their fans’ racist behaviour during their Euro 2020 qualifying match against England.
The Three Lions cruised to a 6-0 victory but events on the pitch were overshadowed by racist chants and Nazi salutes aimed at black players from a section of Bulgaria fans in the stands of Sofia’s Levski Stadium, which was already partially closed as punishment for previous crowd trouble.
Play had to be stopped twice and speaking after the match, England manager Gareth Southgate expressed pride over his players’ handling of the situation.
He said: “We reported everything immediately when we heard things. We had constant communication with the officials and referee and I was in contact with the players during the first half in particular and then again at half-time.
“It’s an unacceptable situation. I think we’ve made two statements really by winning the game but also we have raised the awareness of everybody to the situation.
“The game was stopped twice and I know for some people that won’t be enough. But I think we as a group were on board with that process.”
Raheem Sterling also took to social media to condemn the ‘idiots’ responsible for the abhorrent abuse.
The head of the Bulgarian Football Union Borislav Mihaylov resigned the following day, while Uefa president Aleksander Ceferinw declared “war” on racism in football.
After a long deliberation process, it was decided Bulgaria must now play their next competitive home match behind closed doors, while a second match under those conditions has been suspended for two years. The BFU has also been fined €75,000 (£64,641) for racist behaviour and throwing objects, with a further €10,000 (£8,623) for causing disturbance during a national anthem.
England players react to “embarrassing” Uefa verdict
Given previous discrepancies from Bulgaria fans, Uefa’s verdict has been met with widespread condemnation.
Liverpool youngster Rhian Brewster took to Twitter to urge the world to “wake up” in light of what he called an “embarrassing” punishment.
Another embarrassing Verdict today. Two Games behind closed doors for Nazi salutes and racism. The world needs to wake up. #KickitOut
— Rhian Brewster (@RhianBrewster9) October 29, 2019
Anti-racism organisation Kick It Out have released a statement calling for an entire overhaul to Uefa’s disciplinary process, saying victims of racism have “little faith” in their ability to prevent such behaviour and accusing the governing body of “missing another opportunity” to take a real stand against this sort of abuse.
'We feel Uefa’s entire disciplinary process in response to racial discrimination should be overhauled.'
— Kick It Out (@kickitout) October 29, 2019
The Times’ Henry Winter has urged players to walk off the pitch if they are subjected to abuse in the future, believing the powers that be cannot be trusted to take strong enough action against racists.
And this is why players have to walk off. They cannot trust the authorities to take strong action over racists. Uefa punish Bulgaria with just one game behind closed doors (+1 suspended) + €75k fine for monkey chants against #eng. Pathetic. #kickitout pic.twitter.com/kD7FdEOvlx
— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) October 29, 2019
Several fans have also called for stronger punishments to be handed out to truly address the issue of racism in football.
I’d prefer they faced a complete Ban for a couple of years. That would do the trick
— UndercoverBrother (@mihayo_pascal) October 29, 2019
Huddersfield got a £50,000 fine for having Paddy power on their kit during a pre-season game .Bulgaria should at the bare minimum been kicked out of the uefa Nations League and the next European championships
— Iam2phenomenal (@Iam2phenomenal) October 29, 2019
Fines wont stop racism! The only way to stop racism is education, education, education imo. UEFA need to fix up and start acting in the correct manor! Beyond a joke now
— Chris Allen (@Chris96Allen) October 29, 2019